Saturday, June 30, 2012

Reading material

I decided to provide myself with a pile of new reading material today, to add to the large piles of reading materials I already have in my apartment and to some extent, gathering dust. Hence my visit to Monument Books. The four novels I purchased, all of them based in or on Cambodia are: Tom Knox's fictional historical novel Bible of The Dead, published last year by HarperCollins; part sci-fi thriller Impact by prolific author Douglas Preston, out in 2010 from Pan Books with a Bayon face on its cover; the brand new novel by Patricia McCormick, Never Fall Down, based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond and rated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as "one of the most inspiring and powerful books I've ever read." Last but not least is Adam Hall's Quiller Salamander, published way back in 1994, with the secret agent on a mission to save Cambodia from Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Presumably he fails. I also forked out for a copy of the new Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook, as well as Jean-Michel Filippi's Strolling Around Phnom Penh, which was only published a couple of weeks ago, and takes the reader on seven walks around the capital to expose its heart and history.
When I got home, I added the books to the latest pile on my shelves, which remain unread to-date. They include the following: Kim Echlin's The Disappeared; Sathavy Kim's memoir A Shattered Youth; The novel Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien; John Lathrop's political thriller The End of the Monsoon; A Model American by Elsie Burch Donald; and Loung Ung's Lulu In The Sky, just to mention a few.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Brooding ghost

Yon Davy in the film's credits
Yon Davy is recognised as one of this country's best contemporary dancers, appearing regularly at home and abroad in key productions. She recently had to forgo a place in the performance of Arco Renz's production of Crack due to an addition to her family in a few months time. Tonight, her acting ability, albeit playing a dark and brooding ghost, seen primarily in the shadows, was on show in the Italian-produced movie set in Cambodia, called Blood Red Karma.  Filmed in Phnom Penh, Kampot and a few places in between, Davy's character was the ghost of a victim that was killed at Tuol Sleng and came back to take possession of a young filmmaker. The film itself was mediocre, I'm not a lover of ghost stories and this one didn't do it for me at all, the acting was unconvincing and the whole piece was dark in its photography as well as its plot. Also appearing briefly in the film was Nou Sondab, a well-known TV actress who is also the mother of fellow contemporary dancer Belle, who also made a fleeting appearance in the closing credits. Despite what I've said above, it's good news that foreign productions are being made in Cambodia and that Khmer actors are being involved.

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More is good

Sophea Chamroeun and Children of Bassac colleague at a performance in March
Yikes...or should that more correctly be Yike! News just in from Cambodian Living Arts will see a dramatic increase in the number of shows they will be staging in Phnom Penh for the upcoming tourist high season. Beginning on Thursday 25 October, CLA will host a six nights a week program at the National Museum in the capital and offer up a rotating series of performances of classical and folk dance by the Children of Bassac; Yike (operetta); and Theater including Chayam, Mohaori, Pinpeat and Smot. The shows will be held in the gardens of the Museum between 7-8pm each night, Monday to Saturday until March 2013, and they will give opportunities to sixty emerging artists to demonstrate their talent, with the cost of each individual show pitched at $10 per visitor. This is fabulous news for all concerned. The promotion of Cambodian culture will get a much-needed shot in the arm, the ultra-talented performers like Sophea Chamroeun get the chance to show off their skills to audiences and those living in or visiting the country's capital will get a regular opportunity to enjoy traditional performances by the cream of Cambodia's young performers. I doff my hat to CLA for their bold initiative.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

No slowing down for Joel

Joel Montague never stops. He will hit his 80th birthday very soon and shows no sign of slowing down. He's in the process of completing a book on the famous pioneering Angkor photographer John Thomson, who took some of the earliest pictures of the temples in 1866. He's also off to a little-known part of China next week on a search for any remnants of a French enclave someone told him about. We also know Joel because he's an authority on early 20th century postcards, produced by the French to glorify their colonials exploits in Indochina, for which he's published a book. He also collects pharmaceutical labels and shop signs, as well as chromos. If you've never heard of the latter, then Joel gave an explanation all about them at Meta House tonight, explaining that trade cards, as they're also known, were produced by the French to accompany boxes of chocolates and to continue their glorification of Indochina. Other countries produced cigarette cards in the early 1900s, but that was too vulgar for the French who preferred to use chocolate as their vehicle for heralding their colonial successes. The projector wasn't working but everyone got the idea and another feature of colonial promotion was uncovered.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Opening the trap

As long ago as early 2008 I helped American professor Tim Sorel shoot some footage for a documentary he was making on Cambodia. We interviewed the late Vann Nath and Em Theay. I remember both days as though they were yesterday. This Sunday (1 July) I will get to see the film for the first time, though what Tim originally had in mind, looking back at Cambodia thirty years on from the Khmer Rouge period, changed dramatically over time. His powerful documentary, 26 minutes in length, will be shown at Meta House this weekend, and then The Flicks on 9 July. The film's blurb explains the new direction the director took: The Trap of Saving Cambodia, is part of the international dialogue about the dilemma facing America and the world. The film follows NGO leader David Pred who is trying to put a global spotlight on troubling issues facing this country: forced evictions; corruption on a massive scale; the underground trafficking of women and children. Equally disturbing, could the World Bank, joined by global superpowers such as the United States and China, be funneling billions of dollars in aid to the government with little or no accountability? History will remember the Khmer Rouge and their notorious Killing Fields that followed the Vietnam war as one of civilization's darkest moments. Genocide on a grand scale, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians perished. The Trap of Saving Cambodia serves as a wake-up call to the world, and forces us to question our role in what is really happening in this beautiful, tradition-rich corner of Southeast Asia. Included in the film are interviews with David Chandler, Elizabeth Becker, Youk Chang, Vann Nath, Joseph Mussemelli and Robert Petit. Find out more at the film's website here.
Tim Sorel films an interview with Vann Nath in March 2008 at S-21

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Inglorious gig

Matt Price on a skype call with Augustine Dennis, pictured behind
The Comedy Club Cambodia almost died on its arse tonight. Cornish comedian Matt Price did his best to rescue the situation but it was a tough ask after fellow stand-up Augustine Dennis missed his flight and failed to arrive. The Ghanaian comedian's impending arrival had persuaded quite a few of the city's African community to turn up to Pontoon for tonight's gig, only to find out that their star turn would not be coming afterall. That left the Brit as both the MC and sole performer and he found it hard going after an initial early flurry of laughs. A skype call with the embarrassed Dennis, broadcast to the audience was incomprehensible to most of those present and fell flat on its face and in the final section of the show, Price tried valiantly to pull out a few stories from his normal routine but by this time, he'd lost part of the crowd and the gig came to an inglorious conclusion. Not a gig that will stay in the memory banks for much longer than it takes me to go to sleep.
Matt Price working the audience, especially Chris in the white cap, on the front row

Pictured with Rumnea during one of the funnier jokes

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Ghost thriller

Yon Davy can be seen in the film, Blood Red Karma
I'm be out and about this week and on the agenda are a few obvious events to highlight. Tomorrow night (Tue) is the monthly Comedy Club Cambodia at Pontoon with a couple of stand-up comedians by the names of  Matt Price and Augustin Dennis booked to work the crowd. $8 admission. On Thursday (28 June) at Meta House, Joel Montague is back in town and is lecturing on one of his unusual hobbies; he has quite a few. This time around the topic its chromos - or collectable trade cards with romantic views of Colonial-era Indochina. His lectures are always informative and interesting. The next night, Friday (29 June) is the first showing of Blood Red Karma, an Italian thriller from director Antonio Nardone, who'll be present for a Q&A session. It involves ghost stories, disappearances and the dark side of Cambodian beliefs. One of the actors is Yon Davy, better known as a leading light amongst the country's contemporary dancers. The 80-minute film starts at 7pm.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

In one piece

Would you Adam and Eve it? I manged to get through a game of football this afternoon without pulling a muscle, twisting an ankle or getting my hair out of place. The game was for fun on the RSN Stadium pitch with about fifteen of the Phnom Penh Crown team and the remainder made up of Crown staff and friends. Obviously, the club president was playing so we kept giving the ball to him and he finally netted, after firing a few blanks. Kouch Sokumpheak and Kingsley Njoku were also on the scoresheet but I've refused to add their efforts to their official goals scored tally. All the pleading in the world won't wash with me. Obviously I whacked one in as well. An old dog never forgets where the goal is. The gathering was part of a BBQ afternoon for the club players, staff, families and friends. And there was more than enough food and drink to keep everyone entertained. We should do this more often.



Drumming at Sovanna Phum
The drums of Sovanna Phum and the croaky voice of Srey Thy were the offerings from last night. Hanuman and the Big Drum is a show I've watched before, but this version was slightly different and well worth the effort. $5 for an hour at the Sovanna Phum theatre on St 99. They perform every Friday & Saturday with a different show each week. The drummers were very accomplished, with a few monkeys and dancers thrown in for good measure. The finale of making music with odd bits and pieces you find in your kitchen or garage was a great way to end the show. I also managed to meet Kara, one of my online friends for a few years, who is over from California. Then it was off to La Croisette on the riverfront to catch the Cambodian Space Project for the second night in succession. Srey Thy was suffering with a croaky voice but she didn't let that stop her from joining the band on stage to play two sets to a busy restaurant clientele including Soma, who I haven't seen for a few months. I ended the night watching the Euros at Score Bar til the early hours and will be there again tonight for the big crunch game, England v Italy.
Drumming and dancing at Sovanna Phum

The finale with cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, etc

Cambodian Space Project's Srey Thy carries on despite a croaky voice

Taking a bow

My CSP gig companions, Soma (left) and Vattey

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Belting out

Srey Thy, lead singer with the Cambodian Space Project
In the first of three gigs in three days, one of the hardest working bands on the music circuit, inside and outside of Cambodia, were belting out those unique pop songs from the 60s and 70s at Mao's nightclub last night. Of course I'm talking about the Cambodian Space Project, who were launching their second album, Not Easy Rock and Roll, on the night. The soundman did his job perfectly with Srey Thy's voice booming and as is often the case, the band had two new faces that I'd not seen before, alongside a few of the combo's regulars. CSP play at La Croisette restaurant on the riverfront tonight and at a charity function tomorrow before they will head off overseas for the UK and other locations. The nightclub wasn't as busy as it usually is for CSP gigs but the ladies present didn't let that deter them from taking over the dancefloor and offering up some traditional Khmer dance moves.
The CSP on stage at Mao's last night

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Busy folks

A superior room at Villa Salt from $100/night
To encourage punters to get hold of a copy of their latest, and 2nd album, Cambodian Space Project are playing tonight, tomorrow and Sunday. Busy folks. Mao's is the venue for tonight's gig, from 9pm. Tomorrow, La Croisette restaurant on the riverfront will host CSP, again from 9pm. Both gigs are free entry. Copies of the new album, Not Easy Rock & Roll will be on sale. On Sunday they will take part in the Buckhunger street party to raise funds to feed homeless street kids at Street 460. And then they head for London and other destinations on yet another overseas tour.

Just back from another inspection of another new boutique hotel. Phnom Penh is bursting at the seams with white walled, contemporary-looking boutique hotels. There's a new one opening its doors almost weekly. This one was Villa Salt on St 294 in BKK1 district and next to a boutique shop of the same last name. Smallish pool, nice smart rooms, and a mix of hotel and apartment accommodation options in their twelve rooms, prices ranging from $80-150. There are cheaper options around town for pretty similar facilities, but Villa Salt was almost full when I visited, so that tells a story in itself.
Villa Salt with pool and dining/breakfast area

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

A touch of class

The doors will soon be open at The Governor's House
Enjoyed a lovely lunch today at an exclusive boutique hotel that is soon to formally open its doors in the city, The Governor’s House, located on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, and was then told it was their first lunch serving. Great start if you ask me, tasty Khmer food and very pleasant setting on decking next to their swimming pool. This top of the range hotel has ten rooms lovingly designed by Belgian art collector/designer Alain Garnier, with high-class decoration and furnishings throughout the rooms and public spaces of this four-storey colonial-style mansion. The swimming pool and shady outdoor dining terrace are next to a more formal dining room and extensive wine cellar, and soon-to-be completed spa. The tasteful rooms are split between the three upper floors, surrounding a sun-blessed atrium and featuring rooms dedicated to personalities from Ernest Hemingway to Tintin to Jackie Kennedy. Each room is bursting with original antiques, high-quality comfortable bedding, Jacuzzi bathtubs or rain showers with a contemporary-cum-cosy feel to them. Definitely a distinctive newcomer to the city’s accommodation stable that will hope to convert top-range clientele looking for something more refined and personal.
A look at one of their deluxe rooms priced at $200/night

A gorgeous atrium bedecked with antiques

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interrupted sleep

The Euro 2012 finals is wreaking havoc with my sleep patterns. Last night I went to bed at 9.30pm after watching the final episode of CSI 12 - one of my favourite tv series - and woke up at 1am. Then it was off to Score Bar to watch England beat Ukraine in the company of like-minded football fanatics before getting home just before 4am and four more hours kip before heading to work. Staying up to watch the game at home wasn't an option as the television coverage on the local tv channels is crap. The bags under my eyes don't look so appealing and they will be there again, when I repeat this for the match against Italy on Sunday. The things you do for the love of sport.
This Friday night, the Cambodian Space Project will launch their 2nd album at Mao's and Saturday evening I will head for the Sovanna Phum theatre to watch a new version of Hanuman and the Giant Drums performance. I highly recommend both.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Scholars meet

Make a note of Saturday 7 July if you are in Phnom Penh and are interested in Cambodian heritage. The first scholars conference of archaeology and art history by the Kerdomnel Khmer group will take place at Zaman University in Tuol Kork from 7.30am and it's free for all. The list of speakers is an impressive one. Tess Davis, a prominent voice when it comes to heritage issues like the recent Sotheby's case, is coming from Washington; Chen Chanratana will focus on Koh Ker, So Sokuntheary on Sambor Prei Kuk, and other scholars from as far afield as Australia, France, Singapore, USA and Egypt will also present their specialist topics. With no football to keep me away, I will poke my head through the door to catch some of this.

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Monday, June 18, 2012


Angkor Wat at sunrise - a view I never tire of
I have a massive backlog of photos that have never seen the light of day. I love showing snippets of this fabulous country to anyone who cares to look, not because I'm a great photographer, far from it, but it's a pay-back for the incredible memories and fantastic times that I've had since I made my first trip here in 1994. There's simply not enough hours in the day. Whilst I make more feeble attempts to dig out some pictures from my archive, here's a location I never tire of, sunrise at Angkor Wat.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012


Quiet(ish) weekend, with lots of football and little else. Considered going to the Saturday night concert at Naga but didn't. Saw it on tv and the big stars were miming, so glad I didn't go. Sunday was wall to wall football - sounds familiar - but I did get an online gift from Incantation, who sent me the download of their new album, Atacama, for me to have a good listen and review it. What awfully kind folks they are. Thirteen tracks of authentic South American music by Tony Hinnigan, Mike Taylor and Tony Maloney, written in honour of the Chilean miners of 2010. Find out more here.
On the music front, I should also mention another new album, this time by the elusive band from Cambodia, Krom. Featuring vocalist Sophea Chamroeun, their 14 song release, Songs from the Noir is available for download at here.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Fast and furious future

Belle and Arco Renz after the show
Dark and brooding was how I found the opening fifteen minutes of the contemporary dance performance tonight, which went under the banner of Crack. Three female dancers, Belle, Narim and Kethya started slowly in their actions and gestures and built up into jerky movements rather than what I could seriously term dance. Next it was the turn of the three male dancers, Ratana, Rady and Pheap to do likewise, all the while providing what appeared to be a breaking out, or away from the traditions of the past and embracing a new, faster and more furious future. That was plain to see in Belle's extended solo, much of it without background music, where you could hear a pin drop in the sold-out, standing-room only, theatre. As ever, Belle is a captivating dancer in everything she does, seemingly endless energy, balance, poise, straight lines mixed in with a frenzy that is utterly impressive. In the post-show discussion, she touched on how important breathing is to the performers, and she should know, as she gave a twenty-minute master-class in movement, without outwardly appearing to breathe. The group dynamic caught me smiling as they flitted in and out of the stark strobe lighting, increasing pace all the while before Kethya, soon to return to her studies in the United States, gave a more measured solo and the hour-long show came to an end. The six dancers and choreographer Arco Renz will be taking their show to three European cities in a few months time, and they admitted that each performance is slightly different, as the dancers are able to improvise in their own individual way, within the fluid structure of the overall piece. It was certainly a million miles away from the traditionally-structured classical dance for which Cambodia is so well-known. These dancers are in the vanguard of a new and exciting phase in dance and break down barriers whenever they perform. Long may it continue.
Arco Renz speaking, Belle listening, at the post-show discussion

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Kindle fiction

Do you possess a Kindle e-book reader? I don't but if you want to keep up with the latest Cambodia-based novels available on Kindle then look no further than William MacDonald's After Pol Pot; A Modern Historical Novel, and Samantha Touch's Blended Zones. MacDonald's novel, published by MAL of London, is set in Cambodia, a country the author knows well. The book is described as an intelligent political thriller, which draws on the horrors and complexity of Cambodia’s recent past and the troubles that afflict its present. Meanwhile, Samantha Touch is a university professor who has based her novel on her own first hand accounts of life in Cambodia and research into human sexuality. These are both new releases on Kindle.

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Album number 2

The Cambodian Space Project have just announced a final send-off before they head for foreign shores, again, with a gig at Mao's on Friday 22 June that will double-up as their launch party for their latest and 2nd album, Not Easy Rock & Roll. From 9pm on the night with free entry. Well worth blocking your late-night diary for that one. I bumped into Srey Thy, CSP's lead singer, the other day and she is so looking forward to another trip to the UK soon where the band will be performing in London in the lead-up to the Olympics. They are also heading for Spain, Switzerland, USA and other new frontiers on their next overseas adventure.

It's the Phnom Penh half-marathon this Sunday. Don't even think for a minute that I will be entering. The reason I mention it is the face-off between the two men who were the cause of acute embarrassment to the Cambodian Olympic Committee in recent weeks, over their bungled selection for the upcoming Olympic Games in London. Cambodia's best distance runner Hem Bunting will take on Hiroshi The Cat over the 21km course, with Bunting expected to wipe the floor with his feline opponent. The Cat, aka Neko Hiroshi, is a Japanese comedian who was given the thumbs up by the committee to run the marathon in London ahead of Bunting, who they don't like because he's not a yes man. But the Olympic authorities cut the committee and The Cat down to size when they refused his application. Massive egg on committee face. But the downside is that Bunting misses the Games, which is a tragedy.

I'm gutted that I had to turn down a rare trip into the Northern Cardamom mountains next week that would've involved a crocodile sanctuary, getting down and dirty in the forest and other adventurous goodies. Simply too busy in the office. Upside is I won't miss any of the Euro football.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Don't light up

As a non-smoker all my life, I must congratulate the Apsara authorities at the Angkor temple complex in Siem Reap for their introduction of a 100% smoking-free zone at the temples. Smoking has been banned from now. This covers everyone from tourists to temple cleaners, from policemen to Apsara dancers (the live ones, not the ones on the temple walls). Now, what else is on that list that needs banning...

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Busy Bee

Quite a busy week this week especially on Friday when I'm torn between watching the one-off performance of Crack at the theatre behind Spark nightclub from 6.30pm (I've bought two tickets so I will go to watch the cream of the country's contemporary dancers in full flight) and the Arn Chorn-Pond chat about the new novel just out about his life, Never Falling Down, as well as a screening of the The Flute Player at Meta House, the same night, from 7pm. Not to mention dinner dates with business clients, meetings with wildlife organizations and NGOs, the usual football matches to attend, finding out how to access and update the very complicated website of my footy team and there's also the small matter of early morning football watching with the Euros taking place most nights. And that's besides my 8am-6pm day job (goodness, I work long hours). Later this month we have - in no particular order - a book launch at Monument tomorrow night, a new version of the Big Drums at Sovanna Phum on the 22nd, the next Comedy Club session (Tues 26th), a Buck Hunger fun day with the Cambodian Space Project on Sunday 24th, Joel Montague's presentation at Meta House on the 28th and lots of other stuff - including the private matters which I don't share - happening in between. Strangely, no wedding invites. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to grab a snack in between. And get some shut-eye.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gibbon spotting up north

Yes that really is a gibbon swinging through the trees - I kid you not
You may recall me whinging about my visit to Ratanakiri province back in April when I joined a bunch of enthusiastic wildlife spotters as we went, successfully I might add, in search of the rare northern buffed-cheeked crested gibbons in the back of beyond amongst the forests of this northeast Cambodian wilderness. It was actually a very special experience, hearing their mesmerizing whooping call piercing the quiet of the early morning and seeing these rare creatures swinging through the trees above my head as we ploughed through the forest undergrowth to keep up with them. They chose the easiest route by far. The cycling, to get to the ranger station deep in the forest, was hard work for an unfit git like me and going arse over tit over the handlebars on the way back to civilization wasn't funny. Well, not to me. The hammock sleeping is something I avoid whenever possible, but in the forest, it's the best way to keep clear of creepy-crawlies, so I had to put up and shut up. Essentially, it was a trip split between an unforgettable experience with the gibbons and a tough adventure for someone as unfit as I am. Next time I'll put in some pre-trip fitness training. The purpose was to test out a brand new wildlife adventure product put together by a couple of local companies, Conservation International and the indigenous local communities. The aim is to preserve the environment of the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area and gibbon-spotting is one way they hope to do that. They have plans for more spotting so to speak, red-shanked douc langurs and endangered giant ibis birds but for the meantime, the focus is squarely on a family of habituated gibbons (habituated means they don't mind the presence of humans). And it was an experience I won't forget in a hurry. The treks are now happening, they will become set departures from October onwards, though, as I've mentioned, you have to be fairly fit and don't mind roughing it a bit, but hey, that's all part and parcel of the adventure isn't it? You can read all about it here. Oh, and the cost is from $300 per person once you've made your own way up to Banlung, the capital of Ratanakiri province.
On the local ferry before the start of the bicycle ride. I'm wearing the cap. Photo: Peter Jones (See Cambodia Differently)

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Lost in Cambodia

A new movie set in Cambodia, Comfortably Lost, will be making its debut anytime soon. The brainchild of writer/director Quentin Clausin and starring lead Joshua Lewis in his first on-screen role, the story goes like this: A young New York photographer takes an impulsive trip to Cambodia and allows the journey to be the destination. Full stop. That's all I have on this 99-minute movie. They have a website here.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Priceless experience

A successful day out for the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys today. They experienced life in the remote district of Roka Po Pram, a mainly Cham Muslim area of Kompong Cham province, had a big crowd watching them play against the local district team, half of whom couldn't afford boots and were at least a couple of years older than them, and the Academy won the game with a last-minute penalty too, 3-2 the final result. The playing field was a cow field minus its cows for the day. The Academy coach got the boys to pick up the rubbish littering the pitch in the hope that it would register with the locals before the game and I made an obvious point that our boys washed their hands immediately after. They saw how well-behaved, how professional our boys were at all times, and I don't even recall us conceding a free-kick. There were hundreds of people milling around listening to the instructions from the Academy coach as if he was delivering a religious sermon, and the youngsters were a credit to the club. As they always are. The hosts put on a feast for lunch in the village afterwards and all in all, a great trip into the wilds of Kompong Cham. These experiences are priceless for all concerned and is something we should make the effort to do more often.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Off to the wilds

I am off into the wilds of Kompong Cham province this afternoon. Okay, so its not exactly wilderness and remote but internet access won't be restored until tomorrow. The Phnom Penh Crown Academy are heading to Tbong Kmoum district on the other side of the Mekong River to play against the local district team on Sunday morning, and I'm tagging along, leaving straight after this afternoon's first-team game at Olympic Stadium. The last time the Academy headed out into the provinces was a trip to Kompong Tralach in Kompong Chhnang province last year and that was a great adventure that drew a large local crowd. Tomorrow morning's match should do the same. Good experience for the youngsters and fun for the locals to see their team measure up against the best in the country. 


Friday, June 8, 2012

More Crack

A few more lines on the one-off Cambodian performance of Crack that will take place at the Performing Arts Theatre located behind Spark nightclub on Mao Tse-Tung Boulevard on Friday 15 June at 6.30pm. The six Khmer performers who will bring German-born choreographer Arco Renz's work to the stage are amongst the best the country can offer. Belle is joined by Chey Chankethya, Nam Narim, Chy Ratana, Rady Nget and Phon Sopheap. The work will seek to explore the relationship between traditional and contemporary through dance, music and performance and is a great opportunity to see this international  piece. Tickets are $2 from Amrita Performing Arts office. The work is currently on the stage in Indonesia, having been premiered in Singapore last May and then performed in Belgium in March. After the Phnom Penh show, there will be three performances in three dance festivals in Europe in August.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

It ain't gonna happen

12thC head of Jayavarman VII - originally from Angkor, now held in the Guimet Museum
I'm far less excited at the thought of Cambodia being able to get back its cultural treasures locked away in public (ie. museums) or private collections (including art dealers like Sotheby's) around the world after I got a glimpse of the legal mountains that anyone, including the United States government, let alone the Cambodian government, will have to climb in proving provenance and that any items were removed illegally from their country of origin (in this case, Cambodia). It's all down to the legal speak, statutes, previous case histories and being able to prove the items were stolen (including the inside leg measurement of the thief - okay, so that's a slight exaggeration). Jumping through impossibly high hoops comes to mind. International law doesn't appear to be on the side of the wronged party, so don't hold out much hope that the case against Sotheby's will result in a beautiful Angkorian statue finding its way back to Cambodia anytime soon. Pretty much all countries are keen to retain any historical treasures that they currently hold (even if they've found their way into their collection by dubious means) or else their own collections will diminish in interest (and value). Even though the Guimet Museum in Paris is overflowing with Khmer art treasures, brought back to France by explorers/treasure-seekers such as Louis Delaporte in the 19th century, don't expect any of them to be winging their way back home. It ain't gonna happen.
Postscript: An opinion article on CNN offers another view on what they call Blood Antiquities. Read it here. I like this ending. 'Sotheby's and the Met have a choice: They can treat Cambodia's requests as obstacles, or recognize them as the opportunities they are to right past wrongs and set the moral standard for the entire field. For Cambodia's sake, as well as their own - and for all of humanity that finds these treasures important - let us hope that they choose wisely.'

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Serious...and funny

The book theme has been prevalent in my posts in recent days, so I may as well continue. Monument Books will be hosting David J Scheffer at their Norodom Boulevard bookstore at 6pm on Thursday 14 June, where the author will talk about his new book, All The Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals. Scheffer is a former US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes and is uniquely positioned to give an insider's account of the creation of the permanent International Criminal Court, set up to prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Don't miss it.

Changing tack. The Cambodia Comedy Club is bubbling up for its sixth incarnation on Tuesday (note the change of day) 26 June with the UK's Matt Price and Augustin Dennis from Ghana topping the bill. Tickets continue at the knockdown $8 a head. Pontoon is the venue. I have missed the last couple of comedy sessions so I have made a knot in my hankie to remember this one.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Can't wait

Two historical novels that I am salivating about as I await their publication are Kim Fay's The Map of Lost Memories, due out in August and John Burgess' novel, A Woman of Angkor, expected before the end of the year. I discussed Kim's book recently on my blog and I've already had an insight into how good it is as I was privileged to read an early version of her manuscript a while back. As for John's book, I gave it the heads-up in March and if he does as good a job as he did with his Stories in Stone, then we are in for a real treat. Can't wait.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Filippi's Phnom Penh

I recall writing about Dr Jean-Michel Filippi's proposed book, Strolling Around Phnom Penh as long ago as mid-2010. It didn't see the light of day at that time, but it has now. The author will host a book launch of the English edition of his new book at the Open Wine restaurant from 4.30pm on Thursday 7 June, with a launch of the French version the day before. Dr Filippi is an expert in quite a few things. Forgotten minority languages (he speaks more than a dozen languages himself), Cambodian history in general, absolutely anything to do with the Kep and Kampot region of Cambodia and the buildings and history of Phnom Penh. Corsican-born, he's a regular contributor to local newspapers and magazines, and has designs on building a Kampot Regional Museum, just outside Kep, when funds and time permit. More about the book when I have my copy. 

I've penciled in a visit to the Sovanna Phum Theatre on Street 99, where they host performances every Friday and Saturday evening from 7.30pm onwards. I'm told a new version of the fabulous big drums performance on 22 and 23 June is being lined-up. The couple of times I've seen them before and the Hanuman and the Giant Drums show has been simply stunning. So another visit is long overdue. Other shows this month include large and small shadow puppets, traditional dance, a Khmer music orchestra and Apsara dancing. Entrance fee for adults is $5 each.

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Horns and paper faces

Rumnea and myself at last night's wedding party
I'm not sure that I've seen a groom wearing cow/buffalo horns during his wedding party before, in fact, I know I've not. Add a paper face and you have a very different kind of entrance as Samnang, the bride Veasna and their attendants entered their party, each holding a paper face in front of them as they paraded around the fruit table. I didn't find out why but I'm sure there's a very good, or artistic reason for it. Both Samnang and Veasna are heavily involved in the arts scene in Phnom Penh so the party was a who's who of the arts. It was also very unusual because no alcohol was consumed. The alcohol ban by the Prime Minister during election weekend left most of the men at the party completely deflated and unable to consume their normal ridiculous levels of beer and whiskey. So they left early. Rumnea and I were on  a table full of men, strangely we always manage to do that, and there was not one 'lets all stand up and clink glasses together' moment. Thank goodness for that.
Rumnea looking radiant as usual

Bride and groom thank everyone for attending

The traditional walk around the fruit table, with horns and paper faces

On stage with their paper faces

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

On the hunt

A 10thC kneeling figure from Koh Ker. Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
I'm getting a bit dizzy with excitement that a task force has been set up to assemble evidence to identify Khmer artifacts that were stolen and now find themselves in museums and art houses around the world. The New York Times yesterday suggested that Cambodia will now be after the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to return two kneeling figures that are believed to have been removed/stolen/pilfered from Prasat Chen in the Koh Ker group of temples in the early 1970s. The Met don't hide the fact that they don't have much evidence as to the provenance of the figures and as such must be on weak ground if the task force can prove they were stolen, which of course they were. Maybe the task force can go in under cover of darkness and steal the items back.  Maybe not - two wrongs don't make a right my mum used to tell me. The kneeling attendants, about four feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds each, were put on display in 1994 when the Met opened its new Southeast Asian galleries. The heads of the two statues had been donated in 1987 and 1989, and the two torsos were given together to the museum in 1992. Interestingly, three of the items - a head and both torsos - were donated to the museum by Douglas Latchford, a well-known supporter of the National Museum in Phnom Penh and who has already returned many cultural treasures to their rightful home. The Cambodian task force must have a list as long as my arm of artifacts that were stolen from Cambodia and should be returned. The Guimet Museum in Paris for example have thousands of items they should hand back. My simplistic view (my views are always simple) is that these items belong to Cambodia and should come home. If Cambodia then wants to 'lend' these museums a few token display items, then all well and good. First and foremost, they belong in Cambodia. The shit hit the fan in recent weeks when Sotheby's were exposed for trying to sell another Khmer statue that had been stolen from Prasat Chen. The courts have still to decide whether that item should be returned to Cambodia, which of course it should.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Off to a wedding

Envelope and front of invitation for Veasna and Samnang's wedding party
I was asked by a couple of people to post some pictures of the wedding invitation for Veasna and Samnang's wedding party tomorrow (Saturday) as it was so unusual and visually stimulating compared to the run-of-the-mill invitations that normally get handed out. I hope they don't mind.
The middle of the invitation

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Looking ahead

Belle in Crack. Picture by Anders Jiras.
It's the 1st of June today and Phnom Penh is pretty quiet, people-wise, as lots of shops and businesses have taken the day off with local elections taking place this weekend, though I can hear the blaring loudspeakers of the election cavalcades as they wind their way around the city, in the distance. Looking ahead this month, a performance of a new contemporary dance show, Crack, will take place at the department of performing arts building, located behind Spark Nightclub on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard on Friday 15 June. Tickets are $2 each and six Cambodian dancers, including the immensely-talented Belle, under the supervision of German steps-man Arco Renz will present the show, which is also being staged in Indonesia next week and in Europe in August. Meta House hasn't been on my radar too much in recent months but June sees a few evenings worth a visit. Jeff Perigois' photo exhibit, Boeung Kak Was A Lake, kicks-off tomorrow (Saturday) and the Ross Dunkley documentary story, Dancing with Dictators, is screened on Wednesday 6th. Arn Chorn-Pond, founder of Cambodian Living Arts, will present a new novel about himself, Never Fall Down, written by Patricia McCormick, as well as the moving documentary from 2003, The Flute Player, on Friday 15th from 7pm. Later in the month, Joel Montague is back at Meta House on Thursday 28th with another of his interesting lectures, this time on the black and white colonial-era trade cards called chromos. The following evening, Friday 29th, a new movie, Blood Red Karma, featuring Cambodian dancer Yon Davy amongst its cast, gets a viewing. Set in Cambodia with flashbacks, the film is by Antonio Nardone and is 80 minutes long.

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